Despite this dedicated cluster, mathematical concepts are often taught in a way that taps into the brain’s visual system. Children might be asked to count the apples in a picture, or to imagine two trains speeding away from one another at different speeds. But just how much does visual experience shape the way that people think about numbers?
To find out, researchers at Johns Hopkins compared brain activity among a group of congenitally blind individuals and a group of sighted individuals—asking all participants to solve a series of math problems and language comprehension tasks.
“Across all humans, numerical thinking is supported by similar areas in the brain,” said Shipra Kanjlia, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University, and the lead author of a paper that resulted from the experiment. “Does this change in people who have dramatically different perceptual experience—like people who have been blind their whole lives and have never seen the number of people at a party or the number of flowers in a field?”
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